The Muslim world is threatened by religious fanaticism. The Western world is threatened by secular fanaticism.
Both seek to dominate society and to use state power to do so. Both seek to eliminate the Other — for Islamic fanatics, that means non-Muslim religions and secularism; for secular fanatics, it means Christianity and virtually any public invoking of God. The Islamists impose Sharia law; the American Civil Liberties Union and the left generally impose secular law. The Taliban wiped out public vestiges of Buddhism in Afghanistan; the ACLU and its allies seek to wipe out public vestiges of Christianity in America — as it did, for example, in Los Angeles County, when it successfully pressured the County Board of Supervisors to remove the tiny cross from the county seal. A city and county founded by Catholics — hence the name "The Angels" — was forced to stop commemorating its founders because they were religious.
This fanaticism has been on display most recently in the state of Rhode Island. This past Christmas, the governor, Lincoln Chafee, renamed the state Christmas tree a "holiday tree." Though Christmas is a national holiday, for the secular fanatic, anything Christian — or, as we shall see, anything that relates to religion or God — must be banned from public life.
The latest expression of the secular equivalent of Islamism is the lawsuit brought against a Rhode Island high school, Cranston High School West, for allowing a banner, written by a seventh grader in 1963, to remain hanging on one of the school walls. An atheist student, along with the ACLU, brought the lawsuit and a judge ruled that it is unconstitutional for it to hang in a public school.
To appreciate how fanatical the student, the ACLU and the ruling are, you have to know the words on the banner. So here they are:
Our Heavenly Father
Grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as with others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.
The idea that this prayer violates the Constitution of the United States is as much a mockery of the Constitution as it is of common sense. Only a fanatic can welcome the removal of such a non-denominational, sweet, moral exhortation from a high school wall. America is indeed as endangered by the ACLU as the Muslim world is by Islamists.
Defenders of the judge's decision point to the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1962 banning state-mandated prayer in public schools. The parallel is invalid. No student is asked, let alone compelled, to state what is on the Rhode Island high school banner. But arguments citing the Supreme Court ruling serve only to confirm my argument: that secular fanaticism has been taking over America. The New York State prayer that the Warren Court outlawed 50 years ago was as non-sectarian, as morally uplifting and as inoffensive as the Rhode Island prayer.
Here is it is in its entirety:
"Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country."
After reading that one sentence, it is intellectually dishonest to maintain that the Warren court's decision was not an expression of fanaticism. One would have to deny that there could even be any such thing as secular fanaticism. Indeed, if it could have, the Warren Court would have declared the Declaration of Independence unconstitutional for its citing the Creator.
It is no wonder, then, that Alaska Airlines announced last week that it would no longer dispense along with meals its famous little cards with a verse from Psalms.
There are Americans who think that we are a better society without a state Christmas tree, and without high school students seeing a prayer to be kind human beings, and without the Alaska Airlines attempt to elevate American life in a small — and, again, non-denominational — way.
But the Islamist thinks he is improving Muslim life, too, of course.
Dennis Prager hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show and is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author of four books, most recently "Happiness Is a Serious Problem" (HarperCollins). His website is DennisPrager.com.